E91 American Caramel Cards – Generic Players or Not?
The E91 American Caramel set is an intriguing issue. Printed from 1908, it includes three subsets known today as E91A, E91B, and E91C. Each subset has 33 cards giving us 99 in the total series.
Really, I would classify these are sets instead of subsets. That’s because each one represented a different year. E91A cards were printed in 1908, E91B was in 1909, and E91C was in 1910. They are sort lumped together as the same thing because they all have the same design and the pictures have the same poses. But, really, they are three different issues.
The set is ‘controversial’ (I mean, as controversial as something as trivial as a baseball card set can be) because, while the cards across the three sets use the same pictures, they were used for different players. That has led many to call these generic cards, not really featuring specific players.
But what’s the truth?
The likely earliest claim of calling these generic players is probably found in Jefferson Burdick’s American Card Catalog. Like all of the sets in his book, the description for that issue is brief as his intent was to provide more of a listing of sets than actual perform deep dives into them. But his description of the set calls the cards a ‘faked design.’
Burdick said that because the poses were seen on other cards in the set and were often used for other players.
In all, each subset (E91A, E91B, and E91C) included 33 cards, each with a different pose. There were a total of 33 different poses and they were reused in each set for either the same or, in some cases, different players. For example, here is a picture of a particular pose across the three sets. The card on the left is Daniel Shay in the E91A set, the card in the middle is Larry Doyle from E91B, and the last one is Amby McConnell from E91C. Aside from the team name on the jersey, same exact picture, different player.
There’s zero denying that, other than the names on the jerseys, the pictures are the same. But does that mean they’re necessarily generic?
In short, it’s a little complicated. But to me, there are two realistic stances one can take here.
Option 1: All Real Players
One stance to take is that none of the cards are generic. Even the ones that used the same pictures.
The reason I personally subscribe to this admittedly unpopular theory is because, really, it’s not much different from other depictions of players. Look at strip cards, for example. Many look nothing like the player. They are often very loose artist renditions and the only difference here is that the same exact drawings are merely called different players.
Further, what about cards that very clearly do not represent a particular player. This one from a rare international set comes to mind. The card is said to picture Babe Ruth but you take one look at it and tell me how it even remotely resembles him. My point here is, do the images really matter, even if they are the same?
Plus, other sets that pulled the same thing somehow don’t suffer the same judgment as this one, either. Consider the Tango Eggs set. That one did the exact same thing as in this set, utilizing the same images from the E106 set for different players. Yet those are never considered ‘generic’ cards even in the slightest.
My thought process here is pretty simple. If a card distributor tells me a picture is Walter Johnson and prints that name on the card, it’s a Walter Johnson card. If said artist tells me the exact same picture is Cy Young and it includes Young’s name, it’s Cy Young. The name printed on the card is what I’m going with here and I’m not necessarily bothered by the fact that the pictures are the same.
I’m not naive enough to believe that these are different pictures. That’s silly. But I do consider them truly different cards, regardless of whether the pictures are different or not because the names printed on them suggest as much. The printer even went a step further, printing the new player’s team name on them. Frankly, that’s enough for me and it’s not worth getting bent out of shape about.
The bottom line is that these cards were not necessarily cheap to make. You’re not only talking the cost to print but also the cost of commissioning artists to create the images. These companies tried to save money wherever they could. At the end of the day, it’s fine. If they could have spent the money to create a different picture, that would have been ideal. But just because they didn’t doesn’t bother me much.
Option 2: Some Real Players, Some Generic
The most popular stance for this set is that some of the cards are generic and others are not. And I get it — perfectly reasonable. To get a little more specific, most argue that the cards found in E91A depict real players. The evidence for that is because many other cards show similar pictures to the faces in the E91A set, as outlined here.
Now, this is where it gets a little tricky. E91B includes the same teams (Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia) as are found in E91A. However, many of the players are different. Players included in E91B that were also in E91A would have the same exact pose and, essentially, be the same card. Those cards would also be considered to picture the actual player. However, the others in E91B that featured new players would be considered generic. That’s because they used the same poses as different players in E91A. Make sense?
E91C featured three new teams in Boston, Pittsburgh, and Washington. So those cards would all be considered generic ones because the players were new and used the old poses.
In summary, all E91A cards would be ‘actual’ players and ones that repeated in E91B would also be real. The new players in E91B would be considered generic as would all of the E91C cards.
No Option 3?
So, a question you might have is, why can’t they all be considered generic players? Technically, I suppose they could. But because we have evidence that, at the very least, some (if not all) of the cards in the initial 1908 E91A set seem to be modeled off of real photographs of those players, it is difficult to make the case that those should be considered generic.